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Rio the Beautiful

By Imtiaz Gul

 The Friday Times , June 22, 2012

The aerial view of Rio de Janiero at night is straight out of an animated fairy tale: flickering lights, wild sea waves smashing into the lit-up rocks and illuminated beach, and countless cars forming a beeline on its busy roads in Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon districts. Overseeing this is the towering statue of Christ the Redeemer that dazzles in silver, perched atop the 700-meter Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city.

Considered the largest Art Deco statue in the world and the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world, the 130 feet figure is ranked as the Seventh World Wonder, and in the dark of the night appears to keeping a vigilant eye on everything below it.

During the day, Rio is equally breathtaking. With the Mount Redeemer, the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, and a few other rock formations sticking out of raging waters, the view offers yet another contrast. While scores of people surf the sea-waves below, the cable cars above ferry tourists to the Sugar Loaf mountain - the rock that resembles a huge sugar cone.

Rio de Janeiro is located on a strip of Brazil's Atlantic coast, close to the Tropic of Capricorn, with its core, the Centre (Centro), resting on the plains of the western shore of Guanabara Bay. The greater portion of the city is divided in the North Zone (Zona Norte) and the affluent South Zone (Zona Sul), boasting a population of at least 13 million for the greater metropolitan Rio region.

Rio is a city of contrasts: the upscale affluent districts of Ipanema, Leblon and Copacobana overlook the slums - known as favelas - mostly on the slopes of the hills in the northwestern part of the city, where over a million poor reside.

Despite losing the status of a capital to Brasilia in 1960, Rio de Janeiro continues to symbolize various strengths of Brazil. It is one of the host cities of the FIFA World Cup 2014, and is also preparing in a big way to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. The 2011 Military World Games in July 2011, the largest military sports event ever held in Brazil, was also held in Rio. The sprawling city is also the homeland of the biggest entertainment event in the world, the Rock in Rio Festival, which had editions in 1985, 1991, 2001 and 2011.

Rio hosted the 1992 World Summit on Environment, and is again hosting the Rio+20 two decades on, attracting leaders and activists from all over the world this month.

hese international events also underline an effort by all and sundry to wash off an old stigma: Brazil used to attract tourists from all Europe for its triple "S" attraction i.e. surfing, sun and sex. Its carnival was seen as synonymous with an extremely liberal society, much freer than Europe. And so Brazil came to be looked down upon as a country that offered cheap entertainment of all sorts. But not any more. It is now neither cheap nor the purveyor of the triple "S" life!

On the economic front, despite a slowdown in growth (2.7 % in 2011), diminishing demand for credit in 2012, soaring labour costs and a still-strong currency (2 Rias = 1 US $), the broad picture reflects a remarkable trajectory: In 2010, Brazil's economy grew by 7.5% to become the world's seventh-largest, standing beside other emerging economies grouped in BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

rowing macroeconomic stability, falling income inequality and the global commodity boom have ensured Brazil's steady, politically harmonious growth (according to a May 19 report in The Economist), a sharp contrast to the history of hyperinflation and debt default in the 1980s. A very promising picture on the whole, since the Brazilian economy has averaged better than 4 percent annual growth over the past five years - and this despite the financial crisis that has been rocking world capitals since late 2008.

For Pakistanis, Brazil evokes some inescapable comparisons to the homeland. A former Portuguese colony, it became a presidential republic in 1889, and full civilian rule returned to it in 1985, the year Gen Zia restored democracy. Pakistan won independence from colonial rule in 1947, sank into political cabals - with landed aristocracy in the lead - immediately thereafter. What began with General Ayub Khan in 1958 climaxed with General Ziaul Haq and ended with General Pervez Musharraf's "Pakistan First". But, in retrospect, all three introduced their own distorted visions of Pakistaniat, amalgamating it with an over-emphasis on hollow sloganeering wrapped in religion. They held self-preservation and institutional interests supreme to every other thing, it seems.

In Brazil, General Ernesto Geisel laid the foundations of the present dispensation after becoming president in 1974. With his re-democratization process, Geisel ended the military indiscipline that had plagued the country since 1889. The military regime continued also under Geisel's handpicked successor General Joao Figueiredo to complete the transition to full democracy.

But what turned the corner for Brazil was the Plano Real (Royal or Real Plan) that former Finance Minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso introduced. Cardoso was subsequently twice elected as president in 1994 and 1998. The peaceful transition of power to Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who also won two terms in 2002 and 2006 respectively, underscored that Brazil had finally succeeded in achieving its long-sought political stability. The current president, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female head of state, succeeded Lula in 2011.

In Pakistan, the ruling elite - and foremost the military - raised the nation-building project on Islam and jihad. Through his cunning decrees and game-plans General Zia embedded his social fabrications in the rhetoric of Islam. Return to democracy in 1985 helped little in undoing his legacy of the Kashmir and Afghan jihads. Eventually Al Qaeda lapped up the jihadis and their socio-political supporters within the society. The USA then deployed General Musharraf to undo the consequences of the jihad venture, with mostly unsuccessful results.

In Brazil, two generals - Geisel and General Figueiredo - leaned on technocratic expertise and political wisdom to claw the country out of political instability and economic adversity. No religion, no war. Pure secular national interest - political and economic. And they did not renege on their promise of democratisation. Brazilians owe a lot of gratitude to the two generals for their current stability and growth. In contrast, Pakistanis owe their current political, economic and security crisis - largely to two generals - Zia and Musharraf for leading the country down the path of political divisions and economic adversity.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies


Email: imtiaz@crss.pk